Women and men from Pakistan to Slovenia represented and provided perspectives on their individual countries to over thirty students and faculty members at the International Women’s Fair in the Straight Memorial Room yesterday. Displays represented 13 countries in all, including Nepal, the Philippines, Bulgaria, Jordan, Bermuda, Germany, the Baha’i faith, United Arab Emirates, Iran, Denmark and India.
Organized by Students for Gender Equality (SAGE), the event created a forum for international students to share information about gender roles worldwide.
“It’s an educational campaign to increase people’s awareness of how diverse gender issues are, [what] the meanings of gender issues are and how complex those meanings can be,” said SAGE co-president Aimee Hibbets ’03. “Feminism has the reputation of being a U.S. and Western [phenomena]. [Here], they can see how feminism can apply itself to a more complex array of issues.”
SAGE member Pradeep Giri ’05 hoped the event would help break down stereotypes. “It would be nice for people to learn instead of jumping to conclusions about other parts of the world,” he said.
Giri conceived of the event after watching experts and “talking heads” on CNN commenting on various cultures. He realized that he would rather listen to a person from a country than to one who had just studied it.
“I was tired of people telling me about people in other parts of the world,” he said. “Why not give the people who live in these countries [the chance] to speak for themselves?”
To encourage interest, he attempted to organize the event to suit the hectic schedules of Cornell students.
“It’s not very easy for Cornell students to really see the outside world,” he said. “This might be kind of a chance to bring parts of the world to students.”
To ensure representation of a variety of countries, SAGE members sent out an e-mail to all international students inviting them to volunteer for the event.
Some students hoped to expand typical views of their cultures.
“People don’t know much about Bermuda [except] that it’s a tourism country,” said Michelle Dixon ’06, a member of SAGE and an international student from Bermuda. “I don’t think a lot of people know about our social structure [or] the role of women [in our culture].”
In particular, Shada El-Sharif ’05, representative for Jordan, felt like Americans are ill informed about Middle Eastern cultures. “We don’t ride camels to school,” she said. “[Jordan] has aspects of modernity people don’t expect.”
Other participants tried to dispense with American stereotypes of how women are treated in their country.
“I feel like people here in the States are not aware of what’s going on,” said Suhair Khan ’06, representing Pakistan.
In particular, she feels that Americans hold religious stereotypes about the Muslim faith. “People forget that 1400 years ago Islam was the first religion to give equality to the sexes,” she said.
She explained that despite the American view of oppressed Pakistani women, Pakistan sets aside 33% of the seats in each election for women and previously elected a woman as prime minister. Many of the problems cited by Americans stem from poverty and lack of education, Khan said.
Visitors to the event appreciated the opportunity to learn about the various cultural perspectives. “I think it was really interesting to see the different statistics and talk to people from different countries,” said Lauren Herman ’05.
Other students gained insight into American culture. “It tells you more about America than it does about the foreign cultures,” said Eli Thorkelson ’04. “[I feel] a little bit less closeted in my American liberal surroundings [and] community.”
Beyond yesterday’s event, Giri wants the International Women’s Fair to continue in the future.
“I’m hoping to set a precedent,” he said. “[I hope that] eventually this can snowball into something that is important, into a tradition.”
Archived article by Shannon Brescher